3 Ways To Recognize Youth Worker Burnout

Youth Worker Burnout
Burnt out youth workers are as much use to young people as burnt out marshmallows

Did you read our post about managing and avoiding youth worker burnout in January? In the busyness of the first quarter, did you take out time to recharge? Did you set clear boundaries? Did you line up your workplace supervision for reflecting on your practice?

No? See, we told you “no one plans to get burnt out”!

Well, it’s now mid-April.

The ‘new year smell’ has worn off your programs.

You’re winding down school year programming and trying to plan for the longer hours of summer programming.

Or you’re trying to figure out how to increase attendance, since it always drops off over the exam season and through the summer months.

You’re dreaming of those carefree vacation days between Christmas and New Year. When the phone didn’t ring. Everyone was full of good cheer and resolutions to volunteer more with the youth. When the stress of the fiscal year ending and/or starting was nowhere in sight.

Well, if you didn’t avoid youth worker burnout, here are 3 ways you can tell if you might be experiencing the start or even full-on burnout:

  1. You watch the clock. Usually you work 30-50+ hours a week and don’t give it a second thought, but now every extra minute feels like an eternity. You find you’re coming in right on time and leaving two minutes early. And while there’s nothing wrong with being punctual and having good boundaries, you’re beginning to resent having to be anywhere for anything with anyone for any longer than is absolutely necessary. Including finding increasingly creative ways to use your sick leave.
  2. You complain about the youth. You’ve started to find their usually hilarious behavior, irritating. You find you want to roll your eyes at them or even mock their questions in your mind. You’ve started to use sarcasm as your go-to response to anything they have to say, like you yourself are also 13.
  3. You can’t be asked. You’ve started putting on a movie more often or watching progressively longer clips. You don’t really want to hear much about a youth’s problems and find yourself nodding along and saying ‘uh huh’ without remembering a word they just said. Maybe you’re leaving planning to the last minute or just ‘winging it.’ You’re taking longer to log attendance or you’ve just started doing a head count instead of the usual formalities of sign-ins or other record keeping. Or maybe you’re actually saying to yourself and others ‘I’d do that but I seriously can’t be asked.’

This last one is the most severe sign of youth worker burnout in my opinion. You may notice a change in your attitude towards your working hours or your youth, and a volunteer or good manager will often point those out as well. But apathy can quickly kill any good work you’ve done.

A snarky comment and a longer lunch can usually be fixed with some rest and a pep talk, but inner, deep-rooted apathy can be much harder to overcome. Especially when you still get your work ‘done’ with the youth. They’re still attending. You’re still providing some kind of programming. You can rationalize it and others may not notice for a long time.

If you recognize your behavior in any of these three examples, take some time out. Take a vacation or a few days off with your friends or family. Find an activity that inspires you besides youth work.

Maybe you need a challenge and should consider taking a course or attending a workshop.

Consider if this role is still the right fit for you – do you need a change in position, responsibility, organization or even vocation?

Do what you need to do to re-energize yourself. Because you won’t be any good for the youth, volunteers or colleagues you work with if you’re burnt out.

Question: Are you experiencing youth worker burnout? What action steps are you going to take to make a change? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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